Friday, 22 April 2016

Greek Yoghurt and Honey Baked Cheesecake with Berries

This is a lovely alternative baked cheesecake recipe that works as a beautiful centre-piece and is thick, creamy and delicious without feeling too heavy. 

Greek Yoghurt and Honey Baked Cheesecake with Berries

Here's how:

  • 1 large pack Digestive biscuits - I used McVitie’s but any brand is fine
  • 100g butter
  • 500g Philadelphia (or other cream cheese)
  • 200g Greek Natural Yoghurt (I use Total Greek)
  • Seeds from an entire vanilla pod
  • 1/2 tsp good quality vanilla extract
  • 175g runny honey
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 75g caster sugar
To decorate:
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • Handful raspberries, blueberries and strawberries

Firstly grease a 20-23cm spring form cake tin and set aside. I lined with baking paper, which made for some unsightly creases in the final baked dish, so avoid doing this; instead be liberal with the butter here.

Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees and fill and boil the kettle.

Either place the digestives in a food processor or, if like me, you prefer a slightly bigger, less fine texture, place into a bowl then bash with the end of a rolling pin, or even a potato masher.

Place the butter into a ramekin and blast in the microwave for 30 seconds until melted. Stir then if not thoroughly melted, place back in for another ten seconds and repeat until done. Now pour into the biscuit mixture and use a spoon to combine and ensure all of the biscuit has taken in some of the butter.

Place into the base of the spring form tin and use the back of the spoon to spread evenly and press down firmly so it's tight to the base. Pop this into the fridge to firm up for twenty minutes.

For the cheesecake mixture, firstly crack the three eggs into a small bowl and gently beat with a fork. Set aside for the minute.

In a large mixing bowl, place the cream cheese, cornflour and sugar and mix well.

Add the eggs and 
yoghurt and then scrape in all of the seeds from the vanilla pod plus the vanilla extract. Stir well then add the honey and do the same again.

Once the filling is well combined, remove the base from the fridge and pour over the mixture. Try to evenly distribute as best you can.

Place the cake tin inside a larger ovenproof dish and then gently pour the warm water from the kettle into the gaps between the cake tin and the other dish till it reaches half way up the cake tin. You may prefer to pour some water in, then place the cake tin on top if you don't have a particularly steady hand.

Place into the oven for 35-40 minutes until the top has just begun to brown; the middle should still have a bit of a wobble too.

Remove from the oven and set to cool, inside the tin for at least an hour. Then release the spring form and place onto a plate or cake stand, as you wish. Allow to cool for another hour, or overnight in the fridge if you have the time before decorating.

Once ready to decorate the cake, firstly wash the berries and remove the ends of the strawberries. Now dry with a clean tea towel or some kitchen paper; remove all excess water as you don't want this sitting on top of your cheesecake.

Get a tablespoon of runny honey and drizzle it all over the top of the cheesecake, to act as a kind of glue to the fruit.

You can arrange the fruit in any order you wish on top. I did a uniform circle of raspberries in the centre, followed by a single row of blueberries and finished with an outer row of strawberries.

Leave to stand for twenty minutes to allow the honey to work its’ magic and keep the fruit in place and serve with a drizzle of double cream, vanilla ice cream or a dollop more of Greek yoghurt.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Lunch at Oblix, The Shard

Last Monday, I enjoyed a gorgeous, impromptu lunch at The Shard's Oblix restaurant with my friend Tatum and our two little ones.

We were in the area to visit the London Aquarium and decided to try this rather than the flurry of chain restaurants we wandered past along the Southbank.

Considering it was Monday lunchtime, and a dreary day, the place was buzzing, mainly with what looked like business lunches, and as it's a smart place; we were impressed by how welcoming and accommodating the staff were to Bridget and Cruz, a pair of cheeky toddlers. They were really helpful sorting highchairs and that was the first tick for me.

The views over London are great, but it was a pretty grey day, so we didn't choose the best day for that.

Tatum and I shared a range of small plates, which was a great way to enjoy lunch together, as there was a wide variety of delicious plates to choose from. Every plate was artfully and carefully considered in terms of presentation too.

We had a flatbread topped with smoked salmon, rocket, cream cheese, chives, lemon and some sea salt and every taste was delicious. The babies thought so too. 

Smoked Salmon, Rocket, Cream Cheese & Chive Flatbread at Oblix
A crispy chilli squid with lime was one of the best I've had in a long time, it wasn't over seasoned and it wasn't overcooked; just done to perfection and a burst of delicious flavour in every mouthful. 

Crispy Chilli Squid with Lime at Oblix, The Shard

The soft shell crab was to die for too - a taste of the sea brought to life with a gorgeous hint of chilli infused mayonnaise.

Soft Shell Crab at Oblix, The Shard
We had a plate of seared beef, which was just browned at the edges, as the name suggests, topped with truffle and girolles and was served with a sweetcorn jus or reduction. I cannot stress enough how beautiful this was both in appearance and flavour, the meat just melted in the mouth, delicious. 

Seared Beef with Girolle and Truffle at Oblix, The Shard
Our final dish at Oblix was burrata - after my recent trip to Rome I'd been craving it and it's not available in too many places here. Soft, creamy and fantastic, the burrata was served with fresh datterini tomatoes; a perfectly sweet, small variety, with basil leaves, a drizzle of a balsamic glaze and a great olive tapenade. Our standout dish for sure. So simple yet so stunning.

Burrata at Oblix, The Shard
We also had some chips as a finger food for the two tots which were also rather tasty and some beautiful freshly baked bread too.

Oblix is an attractive proposition, stylish setting, winning menu that delivers on both taste and appearance, views over the city and attentive, knowledgeable staff. With an open kitchen and views into the pastry kitchen, the butchery area and the open grill, aside from the other guests it sets a great atmosphere too.

The staff at Oblix were great with the children, didn't mind them having a few snacks we'd brought along with us or the mess on, and under, the table that comes with two feisty toddlers.

The meal with service at Oblix came in at £120. Money well spent, and I’ll be sure to return to try the dinner menu.

The London Sea Life Centre Aquarium with Toddlers

A week back, I ventured in from Essex to The London Sea Life Centre Aquarium with Bridget and my friend Tatum and her little boy Cruz for a lovely afternoon out in the capital. Bridget and Cruz are 19 and 18 months.

Whilst there are plenty of museums and attractions in London for older children, I've yet to find much indoor entertainment, for this toddler age but the aquarium did tick the boxes and is perfect for a rainy day and really good family fun.

With plenty of fish, sealife, such as sharks, and turtles there's plenty to see, and with clear tanks from floor up high, the two tiny terrors were able to do so at their own pace. There’s also a glass tunnel to walk through, whereby you can take in shoals of fish, Green Sea Turtles and the likes of Bonnethead sharks passing overhead. 

Green Seat Turtle at the London Sea Life Aquarium Centre

Shark at The London Sea Life Aquarium Centre

We chose this day, thinking it would be quiet after the half term, not realising some children were still on holiday, so it was quite hectic running after the pair, whilst navigating all the other tourists and manning our respective Bugaboos, but it was good fun too.

Bridget has been in a few aquariums now, including the Sea Life Centre at Southend and Ocean Park in Hong Kong, and is really fascinated by them. I love that it's something fun for her to enjoy whilst also being educational. Both her and Cruz have been learning about lots of different animals and their attempt to both say 'fish' had my friend and I giggling.

Fascinated by the fish

Happy toddlers

Annoyingly, the penguin section of the aquarium was shut for some refurbishments, which was a shame to miss out on, so I’ll definitely return with Bridget at some point once it’s re-opened.

The aquarium is priced at £25 per adult, but you can get discounted entry for £19.50 if you pre-purchase your tickets online. The toddlers go for free, but aged 3-15 are priced at £17.55.

There's plenty to do and see at The London Sea Life Centre Aquarium, with several little activities and games for older children, which could keep you entertained for a couple of hours at least.

Route 66 Turns 90

Last Thursday I popped along to the unveiling of the coolest piece of street art I've seen for a while; a 52-foot mural, on the side of the old Hat & Tun public house on the Clerkenwell Road; depicting different elements of Route 66 American kitsch, in honour of the iconic journey's 90th anniversary.

The artwork was commissioned by the Illinois Office of Tourism and contains icons of Route 66, such as a Muffler Man, Pontiac Car and a cute bright yellow gas pump. 

Route 66 90th anniversary mural
The artwork was created by Will Vibes, and will be on display in Clerkenwell until Sunday 24th April.

The unveiling last week; took shape via a pop-up party event. The atmosphere was buzzing with a fab live band, Tom Mansi &The Icebreakers, performing Chicago Blues, which got people dancing in the street – literally, in their lunch break. 

Tom Mansi & The IceBreakers
Talking of lunch, the event provided free gourmet Walldogs for all attendees with pork, beef and tofu options available. Toppings for the dogs included kraut, pickles and hand-made green relish plus mustard and/or ketchup. I enjoyed my first ever Beef Dog with all the trimmings (minus ketchup – cannot stand the stuff) and it was utterly delicious and completely put me in mind of a road-side diner along Route 66

Beef Walldog
I had never really considered Route 66 as a holiday option before, but the event really piqued my interest and I found out some interesting facts about the driving route:
  • The starting point of Route 66 is in Chicago, Illinois
  • September is a really great time to explore Route 66 as they hold the annual International Route 66 Mother Road Festival on the streets of downtown Springfield where you can enjoy tons of classic, colourful cars, live music and the chance to chat to Route 66 enthusiasts
  • The roadside diners that line Route 66 have become famous in their own right, and apparently are well worth a visit. The Cozy Dog Drive In Springfield first introduced the Cozy Dog to the States, a battered sausage on a stick, what’s not to love about that. 
If you’d like to find out more about Route 66 or Illinois visit

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Fisherman's Wharf - Southend

On Monday, my day off, Bridget, my Mum and Nan and I ventured to Southend, the infamous seaside resort in Essex that boasts the longest pier, and Adventure Island fun fair, (Peter Pan’s in my childhood).

It was really chilly on the day, so we enjoyed some toddler time in Adventure Inside, the indoors arm of the theme park, which has an indoor play centre which has a huge soft play area, lots of fairground rides and some other attractions.

The rides are paid for with a pre-loaded card (think Oyster style) which rather than running out on the day, can be carried over to your next visit, which I think is a great idea.

The soft play area is absolutely massive and toddlers can go into all areas, as long as accompanied by an adult, so I got to enjoy some slide action, a ball pit, and a hell of a lot of climbing too. Great fun and all for £4 for toddlers whereby you get a wristband and can come back as many times as you like.

We enjoyed lunch at one of our favourite Southend restaurants, Fisherman's Wharf which is set in a small hill, overlooking the sea, and as well as great views out across the vista, has good, reasonably priced food and great service too.

Yesterday was no exception. I usually get the small fish and chips, as it's genuinely so fresh and delicious, but chose something else which made use of the local catch, a Fish Pie. Cooked individually in a round dish, the, the pie was topped with golden brown, cheesy mash potato - delicious. The inside was a rich and creamy roux which contained salmon, cod and smoked haddock plus some subtle herby additions of parsley and dill - beautiful. 

Fish Pie at Fisherman's Wharf, Southend
From the children's menu, I picked the small fish and chips with peas for Bridget, which she really enjoyed too. The fish was, as ever, fresh, pure white and flaked to the touch, just perfect.

Children's Fish & Chips, Fisherman's Wharf, Southend
The staff were really good with Bridget too, bringing her some colouring crayons and paper, so that's a big tick for me.

My Mum had Scampi and Chips - which was a rather large portion, all enjoyable and my Nan had the medium Fish & Chips - again tasty and well cooked.

We had three pots of tea (almost mandatory when having fish and chips at the seaside) and a lemonade, and the entire meal was just over £40 which was a fair price.

You can certainly get tasty fish and chips along the seafront for a cheaper price than that, and we often do, but the slight premium you pay at Fisherman's Wharf is well worth it for the more upmarket feeling, being spotlessly clean and having less of a 'cafe' feel. It's well worth a visit if you're in the area.

Breakfast at Caravan, Exmouth Market

There are tons of places in London where you can enjoy a completely delicious, and no doubt, bang-on-trend breakfast in London, and Caravan, Exmouth Market remains up there.

I chose this last Thursday for a working breakfast as it was close to where I needed to be later that morning and mainly for the laid back vibe, prompt yet un-stuffy service and some of the best coffee in the City.

The entire Caravan breakfast menu shouts of delicious combinations such as Coconut Bread with poached rhubarb cream cheese and lemon curd and plenty of different items on toast, but I chose for the Instagram breakfast of choice, Avocado on Toast (granary), with a side of crispy streaky bacon and roasted tomatoes. 

Avocado on Toast, Caravan

The avocado was mashed and topped with a drizzle of olive oil and some chilli and every mouthful positively sung and was only improved by the addition of bacon and the tomatoes were slow roasted, sweet and absolutely gorgeous.

I've long loved the coffee at Caravan and enjoyed a latte plus some fresh apple juice.

Latte, Caravan

My colleague had a scrambled egg dish on toast, a flat white and a juice too and the entire breakfast came in at £35 which I didn't think was bad considering the location and ambience.

Some of my other favourite breakfast spots in London:
1. The Modern Pantry’s Turmeric and Coconut Waffle with Rhubarb Compote
2. Duck & Waffle’s Full Elvis
3. Roast – The Full Borough breakfast and some of the best black pudding I've tried
4. Black Forest Pancakes at The Table
5. The Bacon Naan Roll at Dishoom – the perfect hangover fodder

Truffled Mushroom & Leek Tagliatelle

This is a really quick and simple vegetarian pasta dish perfect for mid-week as it can be made in 20 minutes, is loved by all the family, tastes great and is a good option for Meat Free Monday too.

I used a black truffle oil I purchased in Rome recently, but you can pick this up easily in the supermarket, and whilst it's a slightly expensive, indulgent ingredient; you only need a tiny bit to give a fantastically earthy, rich flavour.

We all enjoyed this - including my 18-month old, Bridget who is living up to my pen-name for her of Toddler Foodie. 

Truffled Mushroom and Leek Tagliatelle

Here's how:
  • 250g fresh tagliatelle (can use spaghetti, linguini or any other long pasta)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 leeks
  • 200g mushrooms (a mix is great - I used ordinary and chestnut) 
  • 125ml single cream
  • 50g Pecorino Romano (other hard cheeses such as Parmesan, Cheddar or )
  • Pinch black pepper
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp truffle oil

Firstly fill the kettle and place on to boil. Now add the olive oil to a pan and place on a gentle heat.

Peel and crush the garlic and slice the leeks and add to the warming oil to gently sauté.

Slice the mushrooms and set aside for a moment. Grate the cheese and also set aside.

Once the leeks have softened; the oil will be beautifully flavoured too. Now add the mushrooms to the pan and at the same time add the boiled water to a saucepan with a pinch of salt and place the pasta in to cook. TIP: Cook for one minute less than the packet instructs and drain.

While the pasta is cooking add to the leeks and mushrooms, the cream and the Pecorino Romano and season generously.

Once the pasta has been drained, add to the pan with the mushrooms and toss to ensure all strands of tagliatelle are nicely coated in the sauce.

Now finally add the final flourish - the truffle oil - drizzle over the whole thing then mix through to ensure an even distribution. Taste to ensure you're satisfied with the flavour - if too subtle add a tiny drop more until you're happy. Enjoy!

Summer Salmon and Jersey Royals Tray Bake With Walnut and Basil Pesto

This is such a lovely, light and fresh dish which makes the most of beautiful salmon, the first crop of Jersey Royals which are in season now, and the first British asparagus (if you can get hold of it) plus a myriad of other spring and summer vegetables that you can mix and match depending what you have in stock. It's also quick and easy and can be on the table 20 minutes after getting in from work.

I've used some of my Walnut and Basil Pesto here - a portion from the freezer from when I made a big batch, but you could use an ordinary pine nut version, or store bought. You could also use something else entirely - a drizzle of olive oil, some fresh herbs or harissa would, and does work well here.

The below serves two.

Here's how:

Firstly fill and boil the kettle and place the oven on at 180.

Rinse the potatoes then place into a pan and cover with the boiling water. Cook for twelve minutes or until just cooked.

In the meantime add the garlic cloves to a tray, and the cherry tomatoes.

Peel the onion and cut into cubes and cut the yellow pepper into similar sized and shaped pieces and add to the tray.

Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and add the green beans to the boiling water, still on the heat for two minutes.

Once you can handle the potatoes, slice in half and scatter into the tray.

Drain the green beans and add to the tray along with the asparagus.

Now gently sit the salmon on top of the tray and drizzle over the Walnut and Basil Pesto ensuring it is evenly distributed. 

Summer Salmon and Jersey Royals Tray Bake with Walnut and Basil Pesto

Finally place in the oven for 12 minutes exactly. Remove from the oven and plate up straight away.

Salmon Tray Bake

Enjoy a lovely taste of summer. 

Summer Salmon and Jersey Royals Tray Bake with Walnut and Basil Pesto

TIPPLE TIP: This is really lovely with a white wine, Champagne or Prosecco, I enjoyed it last night with some Laurent Perrier we had left over from the weekend.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Salmon with Crushed Vegetable Mash

This is a simple but incredibly delicious and satisfying dinner, that's great for family meals mid-week as it doesn't take long to pull together.

The crushed vegetable mash is a sort of hybrid colcannon but I include thinly sliced leeks and curly kale gently sautéed in a tablespoon of butter so it keeps its’ bite and add some herbs from my kitchen windowsill selection - parsley and chives. The potatoes are baked in the skin while you can crack on with everything else; and then just peeled and the soft, fluffy flesh scooped out and combined with the vegetables after a gentle mashing with just a drizzle of olive oil.

I serve with peas and asparagus cooked in boiling water and the salmon is steamed on a plate, covered in tin foil on top of the pan to save on washing up!

For Glen and Bridget I poach an egg each to soft, in the vegetable water while dishing up as an added protein hit and it's a real family winner for our toddler foodie as well as us adults too.

The below serves two adults and one child portion. 

Salmon with Crushed Vegetable Mash

Here's how:
  • 2 large fillets of salmon
  • 3 large potatoes
  • 150g curly kale
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • Handful fresh parsley and chives
  • Handful Asparagus spears
  • 100g frozen peas
  • Pinch salt
  • Black pepper
  • 3 eggs (optional) 

Firstly place the oven on a high heat around 200-220 degrees to pre-heat and place the potatoes in the microwave for six minutes.

Fill and boil the kettle.

Once the potatoes come out of the microwave, place the end of a metal teaspoon deeply inside of each, and place directly on the shelf of the oven to bake for 25 minutes. The metal teaspoon (a skewer would work as well) will speed up the heat working its way through and so will cook quicker).

Now add the butter to a heavy-bottomed pan and place on a gentle heat with a tiny drizzle of olive oil to prevent it burning or cooking too quickly.

Now slice the leeks and add to the pan. After four minutes on a gentle heat add the kale and stir with a wooden or plastic spoon and cook for a few minutes. Now remove the kale and leeks to a bowl and set aside for the minute.

Place the salmon fillets onto a plate and cover with foil. Now place the peas and asparagus into a different pan and cover with the boiling water, place the plate with the salmon on top and cook for 6-8 minutes.

While that’s cooking remove the potatoes from the oven, de-shell and place all of the soft and fluffy potato into the pan that cooked with leeks and kale. Add a knob of butter and mash with a fork, or a potato masher. Then stir in the buttery kale and leeks with a wooden spoon and place on a very gentle heat to keep warm.

Once the vegetables and salmon are cooked, use a slotted spoon to get the vegetables out of the water and place into a colander, then if you’re having poached egg, pop these into the vegetable water – they only take 3 minutes to poach to soft, so will be ready by the time you’ve dished up the rest of the meal. Enjoy!

TIP: If you prefer your salmon to be cooked through more, then leave to steam over the eggs as they poach.